Almost 20 years after it first made its debut on the American sports scene, the newest rendition of the XFL is finally now just days away. As soon as the Super Bowl was over, the social media and advertising push kicked into high gear, as the XFL looks to get it right this time around with an expanded TV schedule and new features such as all the skilled positions having coordinator communication inside their helmets. With Week 1 scheduled to get underway this Saturday at 2:00 PM EST on ABC when the Seattle Dragons travel to take on the DC Defenders, let’s look at my favorite bet for the opening week of action.
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks (-5.5), 5:00 PM EST (via DraftKings Sportsbook)
One team that I have had my eye on since rosters and coaching staffs started to take shape is the Roughnecks. Led by June Jones who has been a head coach at every level of football including finding some success most recently in the CFL, the Roughnecks will run the Run and Shoot offense that Jones has patented over the years, first as a player at Portland State and later in the NFL as a coach finding success with Jeff George as his quarterback.
In a league like the XFL that has rules that discourage punts and almost completely eliminates touchbacks, drives will almost always start no deeper than a team’s 35-yard line, giving offensive minds like Jones plenty of room to work with. While they brought in former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook for some competition, the Roughnecks recently announced they will send out Phillip Walker as the starter, the perfect fit for an offense that will get off a ton of snaps. Walker was even inquired about by the Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of a recent matchup with the Baltimore Ravens to simulate Lamar Jackson in practice, but the request was denied by the XFL. Walker will have former Steeler’s third-round pick Sammie Coates as his top target and should be able to stretch the field with his breakaway speed.
On the other side of the field, the Wildcats will bring in likely one of the league’s better defenses, led by the only defensive-minded coach in the league in head coach Winston Moss. On the offensive side of the ball, former Alliance of American Football (AAF) quarterback Luis Perez was thought to be the starter for the Wildcats before a recent trade to the New York Guardians. Instead, NFL journeyman Josh Johnson looks slotted to get the starting gig, with his experience at the highest level considered a big plus for the Wildcats. Elijah Hood, who also spent some time in the NFL, was the Roughneck’s first-round pick and is expected to be one of the highest producing running backs in this first season of the league.
While the Wildcats are certainly stacked with ex-NFL talent, including on the defensive side of the ball with ex-Lion Devin Taylor, that talent is on the downslope of its football lifespan in my opinion and doesn’t fit well with a league focused on developing talent and throwing the ball. In general, I think a lot of Week 1 lines have over adjusted for the NFL name recognition on their roster, with oddsmakers either knowing those teams will attract money, or simply over-valuing them themselves. Either way, I like the Roughnecks, led by Jones and one of the hungriest quarterbacks in the league in Walker, to get a decisive win to kick off the 2020 XFL season.